Fred was Manchester United’s £52m flop while McTominay was the kid with an attitude problem, but now Solskjaer cannot do without either… and that’s bad news for Pogba and Van de Beek
- Manchester United appear to have finally found some resolve in their midfield
- Fred and Scott McTominay have formed an important partnership at Old Trafford
- The pair have previously had issues at Old Trafford, but have now come good
- World Cup winner Paul Pogba is being kept out, as is new boy Donny van de Beek
As the acclaim poured in once again for Bruno Fernandes following his man-of-the-match display against Everton, there was evidence to suggest that Manchester United‘s real heroes at Goodison Park were being overlooked.
Yes, there were two goals and an assist for the Portuguese and a return to the kind of attacking display that saw him heralded as a revelation after joining the club in January, but there was another detail, too. One that was not missed by his manager.
That was the performance of the two men behind him, a solid platform that appears to provide United with the base from which to attack the rest of the season, and give Solskjaer the breathing space he needs in a bid to stave off questions over his own future.
Fred (centre) and Scott McTominay (right) have put in strong displays against big opponents
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may have finally found a midfield partnership to settle United this season
Fred and Scott McTominay both caught the eye for United in their win on Merseyside, and not for the first time this season.
Their presence in the middle was a world of calm away from the disastrous Wednesday night in Istanbul, where Nemanja Matic and Donny van de Beek had stood in during an embarrassing defeat. And Solskjaer was only too aware of the difference.
‘Scott and Fred have done brilliant together,’ he told reporters after the 3-1 victory.
‘They’re a great partnership. Of course, they didn’t start during the week. Scott played 45 minutes in Turkey but you can see they have fresh legs.
‘With Bruno’s goals, Scott and Fred with that energy and in that engine room are always key for us so our creative players can go on, create chances, show their magic.’
That has been one of United’s major problems this season, and Ole feels like he’s solved it.
With the stars at his disposal you would have hoped the Norwegian would have been able to find a solution sooner or later.
It’s just that the identity of his two midfield saviours would not be the ones picked out of a hit parade.
For so long, Fred has appeared an outcast at Old Trafford, the weight of his £52million price tag in signing from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2018 proving too much on occasions.
Fred appears to finally be living up to the £52million price tag that United paid back in 2018
Claims had been made that the transfer only went through because Jose Mourinho feared he would not be afforded the chance to sign any other midfielder, as opposed to the Brazilian arriving on any form of merit.
Only last month, former Premier League striker Troy Deeney detailed the glee with which a Manchester United teamsheet was met should it possess the No 17 on it, such was his propensity to dither on the ball. That no longer appears to be the case.
So, too, has McTominay shed the issues of his earlier years at United. The Scot broke into the first team under Mourinho in 2017, but his early success was tempered by questions over his attitude – his application during spells spent back with the Under 23s far from impressed coaches watching on.
Now a fully-fledged member of the first team, there is no questioning his work ethic, with the 23-year-old a key member of Steve Clarke’s Scotland squad as they prepare to take on Serbia for a place at Euro 2020 this week.
McTominay has previously had his attitude questioned, but is outperforming all in the middle
As well as Saturday, the pair have been at the heart of United’s best displays this season since the chastening 6-1 defeat by Tottenham at home.
Paris Saint-Germain were dispatched in the French capital with the duo at the centre of United’s midfield, while Fred’s performance against RB Leipzig was lauded and McTominay joined the fray with Marcus Rashford to finish the demolition job on the Germans.
The pair also started United’s biggest league win of the season so far, when Newcastle were beaten 4-1 at St James’ Park.
The poise they bring to the team can be seen in United’s equaliser at Goodison. Both McTominay and Fred were involved as the team strung together 20 passes before Fernandes headed home.
It was the second-highest sequence of passes leading to a goal during this Premier League campaign. United also hold the longest sequence, too, with McTominay involved in the 21-pass move that led to Aaron Wan-Bissaka scoring against Newcastle.
The reason behind the pair starting becomes clearer, too, when you delve into the comparisons between United’s midfielders.
Comparing Fred and McTominay with Paul Pogba, Matic and Van de Beek, the Brazilian and Scotsman between them lead in near enough every statistical category.
McTominay has created more chances than any of the five, delivering 1.48 per game on average.
The Scot also has more interceptions at 2.21 per game, while Fred has made the most recoveries at an average of 9.45 per game.
Paul Pogba has struggled to find his way into the Manchester United starting line-up of late
Donny van de Beek has yet to fully integrate into the squad since joining from Dutch side Ajax
It is the defensive side of their game that makes them so indispensable, and which gives Pogba and Van de Beek a tough time breaking into the current set-up.
The £89m Frenchman’s problems on the field have been well documented, while constant speculation surrounding his future give the impression of a player not long for Old Trafford.
Van de Beek, a major £40m purchase in the summer, has struggled for game time so far, having only played 76 minutes in the Premier League.
Nemanja Matic has been relegated to a bit part with Fred and McTominay starring
As a more attacking threat, a regular position could be hard to come by for Van de Beek while McTominay and Fred provide a defensive platform for Fernandes.
Matic possesses those defensive attributes too, but his game time has been limited this season, with Solskjaer using the Serbian sparingly.
Instead, the Norwegian appears to have found his solution in the middle of the park and a base to drive the team both up the pitch and up the table.